Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman Essay
In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, the main character, commits suicide due to the seven deadly sins of the Christian faith. Death of a Salesman is the tragic story of the patriarch of the Loman family. Willy Loman lives in fantasy, longing for wealth and success. He entertains delusions of what he desperately wants, but could not attain due to several faults. Willy Loman embodies four of the seven deadly sins – Pride, Greed, Gluttony, and Envy – and these sins ultimately lead to his suicide.
Considered the worst of the seven deadly sins, Pride is defined as failing to acknowledge the good work of others, the desire to be more important than others, and the excessive love of oneself. Pride is the sin from which the six other sins arise. Willy Loman is an extremely prideful man. He accepts help from no one and believes that he, by himself, will become successful and wealthy. For instance, when Willy lost his job, his friend and neighbor, Charley, offers Willy a job. Willy turns it down; he replies that he has a job.
Willy suddenly turns defensive; he is bent on letting Charley know that Willy’s job is a fine job (Miller 43; act 1). Willy firmly believes that he alone will provide for his family and will give them a life of luxury. The disappointment at himself and the disappointed light he believes others see him in is too much for Willy; he sinks further and further into madness. Pride is Willy’s tragic flaw; this is what sets him on the path to self destruction. His pride is what keeps Willy in his fantasy world. For example, Willy sees his sons as great kids, as Titans bound for marvelous things.
Willy’s pride is what keeps him from seeing that Biff cheats and steals and Happy is an unmotivated man with no dreams. When Biff steals footballs from school, Willy calls it initiative (Miller 29-30; act 1). When Biff cheats on his exams, Willy encourages him, thinking that it shows that Biff knows what he wants out of life and how to get it. Willy does not want to realize that his boys have failed, especially Biff. Pride is the reason for the chain of events leading to Willy’s suicide. Another of the seven deadly sins that contributes to Willy’s suicide is Greed.
Greed is defined as a sin of excess, usually excess with regard to wealth. Greed plays a key role in Willy’s life. For instance, Willy dreams about money and success. He reminisces to Happy about his older brother, Ben, and how Ben was wealthy at the age of twenty-one. Willy explains that Ben went into the Alaskan wilderness and discovered a diamond mine (Miller 41; act 1). After retelling this memory, Willy sees only the money. Willy tells Happy that he regrets not going with Ben when Ben begged him to accompany him. It becomes an obsession of Willy’s; he feels like he has to be even with, or surpass, Ben.
Willy’s greed leads him to value only success and wealth, not happiness. This is seen when he puts so much pressure on Biff to be great. Biff cannot take the pressure, therefore this leads Biff to ruin himself, in turn ruining his father. Willy also believes that buying expensive appliances will buy the love of his wife. In a delusion, he pictures them happy and free of worry. They have plenty of money and their sons are happy and successful in their high school careers. In this instance, Willy bought his wife’s love with money (Miller 30-36; act 1).
He believes that others must share his greed. Greed consumes Willy’s entire life until it eventually helps to kill him. Like Greed, Gluttony is defined as a sin of excess. It encompasses an over-indulgence in food, drink, or intoxicants. In Willy Loman’s case, Gluttony means an over-indulgence in delusions and fantasies. Willy spends most of his time dreaming; dreaming of success, dreaming of wealth. He wastes away the hours, wallowing in self-pity. For example, one night Willy’s shouting wakes Biff and Linda. They find him outside wandering, lost in his fantasies.
Willy’s mental illness, according to Linda, is due to the loss of his salary. She explains that now he borrows fifty dollars from Charley a week and Willy pretends that it is his salary (Miller 52-56; act 1). At this point, it is impossible for Willy to make a positive change in his life. Because of Gluttony, Willy sinks deeper and deeper into his depression, giving in to his delusions. Willy’s fantasy is much brighter and happier than his reality, and he chooses to stay there. The depression, due to the gluttony of his delusions, is part of the cause for Willy’s suicide.
Willy’s gluttonous desire for success and wealth is tied to his pride. Like with his sons, Willy refuses to realize the failure in his life, instead delving deeper and deeper into delusions to the point where Willy’s entire life is one huge fantasy. His pride keeps him from realizing his failures, which in turn keeps him from making positive changes in his life. Pride and Gluttony work together to make certain that Willy destroys himself. Envy is the final sin that Willy embodies. Envy is defined as wanting what another has, whether it be material goods, a social position, or a career.
In this way, it is connected to the sin of Greed. Willy is envious in the same way he is greedy. For example, Willy wants for Biff the success that Charley’s lawyer-son, Bernard, has. After a few minutes talking with Bernard, Willy breaks down and asks Bernard why Biff is not a success (Miller 91-92; act 2). Willy is not only greedy in that he wants that success for Biff, but Willy is envious in that he is jealous of Bernard. Although this example is an emotional scene for Willy, he tries to tell Bernard that Biff had very successful endeavors in the West.
Through the tears, there is still that yearning for success. Willy resents that Charley has a successful son. He does not want either Charley or Bernard to have the satisfaction of being successful. He wants that feeling for himself and for his son. In a way, Willy is also envious of his brother, Ben. Ben appears to Willy in dreams of finding wealth. Ben was a wealthy man, and Willy must have been envious of this. Willy’s envy is tied to his greed. He wants the wealth that Ben was fortunate enough to receive, but Willy also begrudges Ben somewhat because Ben was wealthy and Willy was not.
Willy looks up to Ben as a model for wealth, but there is also a sense of envy emanating from Willy whenever he has the dream about Ben. Pride, Greed, Gluttony, and Envy worked together to bring Willy to his death. Each sin was connected to another in some way. All people have twinges of these sins every once in a while, but what makes Willy different, what makes these sins that he embodies so dangerous, is that he let them take over his entire life. Willy allowed his pride, greed and envy to dictate what he would do that day or how he would react to another character’s statement.
These three sins caused Willy to suffer gluttonous behavior, such as loosing touch with reality. Willy Loman’s suicide is due to the sum of the Pride, Greed, Gluttony, and Envy that played a major role in his life. Willy allowed these sins to take over his life, undermining his sense of right and wrong over a period of several years. There was no single cause for Willy Loman’s suicide, it was the combination of all the cankerous faults in his character that eventually took so much of a toll on him that he sought permanent relief.